Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

Thoughts from an evolving helicopter mom…

I no doubt struggle with being a helicopter mom — someone who is always hovering about her child and getting overly involved in schoolwork and other developments in my 16-year-old’s life.

In these days of covid-19 I am trying my best to be more hands-off. The last thing my daughter needs during the pandemic is for me to be breathing down her neck about school work. She is 16 so she is largely capable of doing her schoolwork on her own.

She is also an A or A plus student during non-covid times, so it seems more than likely she should be fine in this age of remote learning.

I feel that my anxiety is what prompts me most into being a helicopter mom. Moving forward, I need to talk myself out of anxious feelings before involving my daughter in my own anxiety experience. She has enough on her plate connecting to school and peers remotely and does not need me to micro-manage her. It only adds to her stress.

I believe at the root of the problem is the fact that I was not safe when I was young due to abuse from a neighbor. My hyper-vigilance is a by-product of not feeling safe when I was young and projecting that onto my daughter’s situation. While it is good to be vigilant, there is a definite downside to too much worry and too much involvement nonetheless.

So the goal for now is to not involve my daughter in the consequences of my anxiety: too many questions, worries about deadlines, concerns about testing. She is almost 17 years old and can manage those things on her own.

Going forward, I just need to check-in with her once a day and see if there is anything I can help with. That’s my plan for now. Anybody else have the experience of being a helicopter mom? If so, how do you manage it?

I just had a three-hour talk with my best friend…

My best friend and I talked on the porch with masks and social distancing for the last almost three hours. She is the type of friend who you cannot see for 6 months and then pick up and connect just where you left off last.

It was wonderful to know more about how she’s been doing and helpful to feel that I might be of help just listening to some of the things that have been occupying her life — like caring for her teenage son who has had some mental concerns and being a teacher in this time of distance learning and covid-19. The teachers right now in the States are having a time of it.

Talking also helped me put my own problems into better perspective. The challenges of my life seem to largely revolve around my anxiety even when the actual problems themselves are not that dire. Talking to my friend helped me gain some insight into my own peculiar need to always have something to worry about when that is not necessarily helpful or needed.

My friend is also an avid exercise person. I gave her permission to get on my case for not exercising on a regular basis. I asked her to reach out to her son and to her ex-husband and let them know that she respects the work they are putting in daily to overcome anxiety and other related challenges.

Once again, I am reminded how thankful I am for the relationships in my life. It makes me want to invest more time in developing more meaningful relationships across the board. Even when the conversation moves to serious topics, it is good to know we are not alone and that we can do our best to put on each others’ shoes and walk a mile or two.

Question for You?

** This post deals with paranoid thoughts and experiencing them**

We have all been told that paranoid thoughts do not have any value whatsoever. They are thoughts not grounded in reality and therefore something to forget or ignore or get past as well as we are able.

I have been prone to paranoid thoughts off and on since the onset of my bipolar illness in 1984 / 1985. Most times this paranoid thought is confusing, upsetting and painful. However, I am wondering whether to write a blog post that talks about the potential that there may be a small or very small kernel of truth in paranoid thought however hidden or misshapen particularly when paranoid thoughts from several people about the same topic are considered at one time.

For example consider that someone is paranoid about the water quality in the town where he lives and reports that to police. In that same week, police get reports from 5 different people that there has been a suspicious character near the water works for that town and 2 to 3 neighboring towns. These reports each taken by themselves these might be examples of paranoid thought but taken together might hint that there is a potential risk with the water supply in a nearby town.

The key is that there would need to be some independent entity that is recording the paranoid thoughts from individuals and looking for trends in them, then verifying whether the trends are grounded in reality or not.

Does this type of suggestion of trending paranoid thoughts interest you or cause you anxiety? I would like to write more about this potential hidden kernel of truth in paranoid thought but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way. I also do not wish to glorify paranoid thoughts in any way since most of what paranoid thought is is confusing and upsetting. I am looking for your feedback as to whether this type of discussion would be helpful to you or not?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Development of High Anxiety

In the years after I was first diagnosed with bipolar illness, I would have a break and go into the hospital about every six months.  Eventually with the right meds I got to the place where I would have mini-breaks every six months and stay with my sister Jane and her family rather than go into the hospital.  This was during the days of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol.  I would leave my apartment and take the subway to my sister Jane’s house about 25 minutes away.  Oftentimes this ride was a huge challenge.  I would arrive at Jane’s house with an overnight bag and some meds and put my belongings in the basement where there was a guest room.  I would spend between three and seven nights at Jane’s house where she would help me with administering meds.  In those early days, the anxiety associated with waiting for the meds to kick-in was excruciating.  I often requested to hold Jane’s hand as we lay in the bed until the medication had had time to sink in and sedate me. 

At that time, the meds for bipolar illness were not very advanced.  Meds seemed at that time to treat the symptoms of the illness rather than seeking to manage the illness before the break-through of mini or grand episodes.  I am forever grateful to my sister for allowing me several years of staying with her and her family every six months or so and managing though those mini-episodes. When I was at her house and under the care of Mellaril, Ativan and Haldol, it would take about an hour for the impact of the meds to sink in.  During that hour of sheer hell I would sit and smoke cigarettes nonstop waiting for the meds to kick in.

Since those early days of a mini break every six months, I have been prone to high anxiety which is often at times consuming and sits sometimes in the background, as a nagging reminder that I continue to struggle with my moods every day.   Managing the anxiety associated with bipolar illness has developed into my greatest challenge besides the reversal of stigma.  Perhaps pairing the management of this anxiety with a willingness to explore potential abuse as a child will make an impact on this generalized anxiety – hopefully reducing it substantially. 

I also have more recently added an additional medication Trileptal to help with the anxiety and this appears to be making a difference for me.

As an aside based on commonplace discussions, I have been told that family intervention for people with behavioral health diagnoses is much more common in Europe than in the US.  Just like our propensity in the US is to care for the elderly in homes for the elderly, we tend in the US to care for people with psychiatric disorders in a hospital setting.  Personally, I feel that the more care that can be provided in the context of the family and the family home the better.

Once again, my illness has developed in phases.  Early in my diagnosis were “grand episodes” including hospitalizations.  These ”grand episodes” gradually gave way to more “mini episodes” managed in the home with a few exceptions. In my postpartum period, I was back to having “grand episodes” and being in the hospital again for those first three to four years. 

As I became more comfortable with managing my illness and being a Mom, I went back not to having “mini episodes” but to having a general level of anxiety to manage at all times.  Goals but not necessarily accomplishments include daily meditation, daily exercise goals including walking and yoga and a daily commitment toward transparency in my faith and my diagnosis.

When You Have Anxiety….

When you have anxiety I am wondering what time of day that usually occurs or if there is a time of day that is most difficult with your anxiety? For me the most common time to experience anxiety is when I first wake up in the morning. I am always anxious about something as I awake. More recently it has been about will I have cancer. I am going through a series of tests right now for breast cancer and wake up worried about it.

Do you have a specific time of day when anxiety is most difficult?

I am letting go….

I am letting go of any childhood abuse I sustained between six and ten years of age. I recently have had an abnormal mammogram, an abnormal ultrasound and a request for an MRI for both breasts.

I feel like I am being called to let go of the abuse I experienced as a young child so that I can continue to heal particularly with respect to any sort of breast abnormality or cancer I may currently have or any cancer that is soon to be discovered.

I won’t find out for at least two weeks if I have breast cancer. My MRI is on June 17th. Until then, I will be working on forgiving those who I believe participated in the sexual exploitation of me and my body and my mind when I was six, seven, eight, nine and ten.

I release any perpetrator and give the abuse over to God as to how to handle those individuals and how to judge those individuals. The judgment is not mine to make.

Again, I will also be working on forgiveness to those parties with the main desire to move forward in my life in a way that is free from anxiety and free from these deep pockets of pain. I feel that by letting go of this abuse, I may be more able to forgive and more able to have an illness-free life going forward.

Thanks in advance for any support you can muster for me as I release this abuse to God and to the void. I no longer want to possess this experience and the anxiety and depression that comes along with it.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Life before Anxiety

I have limited or very limited memories of what life was like for me as a child and/or a teen before bipolar illness hit me in my twenties as a college student.   This is particularly true of my early childhood years before middle school. These memories before middle school are largely blank. They are not bad memories, per say, they are just not memories at all. Like a blank screen on a TV set — all images gone with little sound either. I am seeking to explore the lack of early memories as time moves forward and as my therapy progresses.

In high school, I was a typical over-achiever and straight A student.  I graduated at the top of my high school class and was voted by high school peers to be “the most likely to succeed.”  I had a steady high school boyfriend for my Junior and Senior years in high school.  My study peers were the Advanced Placement teens while my social peers were “the in-crowd.”  Somehow it was important for me to feel that I was part of “the in-crowd” rather than just being satisfied with my academic peer group. Most of my memories of high school are very strong as I was able to hold onto this vision of myself as “successful.” These memories are much more vigorous than memories from the years before middle school.

Most of my memory absence appears to be before middle school years. When I was in sixth grade, my parents divorced.  I tended to manage what I now recognize as what may have been anxiety and feelings of depression by becoming a great student and high achiever.  I felt somehow if I could be a straight A student, there was no wrong happening in my life and all was right with the world. 

My Dad remarried a short time after I transferred in sixth grade to a private school. When I was a Sophomore in high school, my Mom also remarried.   With both parents happily remarried, I continued to live life relatively anxiety-free or so it seemed.  I was a super student and a valued member of the cheerleading squad, the track team and the student council.  I was the top student in my Senior class and voted in as “the May Queen” by my Senior class peers. 

It was not until I arrived at Ivy College that I first experienced anxiety that I was aware of.  Suddenly everybody was as smart as I was.  Suddenly my coping mechanisms for stress – being the top in my class – seemed very very far away.  I took to studying all the time to keep my grade point average in the “A” zone rather than adopting an acceptance for “B” work.  This preponderance for “A” work I think was a factor in my inability to distance myself from the come-on’s and other subpar behaviors of my college thesis professor–  Professor Flannigan — during my Senior year.   The coping mechanisms I had adopted in my middle school and upper school years were inadequate for coping with the challenges in college days, particularly those challenges of my late Junior and early Senior year days.  Perhaps unlike many college students, in college I did not appear to grow out of or beyond coping mechanisms that were helpful in my younger years in middle and high school.    

In addition, it may have been that Professor Flannigan, untrained therapist that he was, was somehow trespassing dangerously into the “safe world” of that six-year-old child while that six-year-old child was striving desperately to stay on course.  Once again, Flannigan’s assuming to be a trained therapist or acting like one was likely very, very dangerous for me particularly if sexual or other abuse was present for me as a young child.

What has changed since college days? There is still a blank screen there where there should be early memories, but at least now I am in a place to work through those voids with a trained therapist rather than an emotionally immature egotist.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Managing Anxiety Then and Now

My daughter was born 16 years ago when I was 40 years old.  She is the light and the delight of my world, yet her birth marks a turning point in my illness particularly as regards my experiences of anxiety.  As a parent, my experience of anxiety has quadrupled or more over the years of being a parent. 

In years prior to the birth of my daughter, everyday life felt relatively normal between breaks with breaks or mini-breaks coming every six months or so each year.  After the birth of my daughter this scenario was replaced by a low to medium to sometimes high level of generalized anxiety all of the time.  This generalized anxiety now persists as my benchmark or my norm with little or few break-down episodes.

While I no longer have episodes that land me in the hospital or at my sister Jane’s house twice a year, I do maintain and live with a generalized sense of anxiety all the time.  In many ways my illness has migrated from severe to partially severe breaks every six months to living with anxiety on a regular basis.  The anxiety may also be the by-product of mixed moods – or experiencing mania and depression simultaneously.

The good news is I have become better at policing my environment and know those things that trigger my anxiety:   fears of safety, not being sure the house is locked or secure, not knowing the location of important things like documents in the safe or prescription medication, big parties where there is an emphasis on alcohol and drinking…. In many ways it feels like my bipolar illness has migrated toward including a combination of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. 

But, I am not the doctor and as far as I know I am still diagnosed as having bipolar illness… 

As a parent as discussed, I tend to be hyper-focused on safety concerns for my daughter as well as for my family.  I tend to be extra vigilant about little things like crossing the street or being in a venue where alcohol is served or being aware of predators on the internet or elsewhere.

I also appear to have some short-term memory problems that I associate with a high dosage of meds over the years and/or over-active brain synapses.   These short-term memory issues continue to present challenges to me particularly in the workplace.  At times, I am challenged with finding a place for everyday things like a wallet or keys or cell phone.  It is also difficult for me to keep track of things of my daughter’s like phones, laptops, keys, etc. Each of these things has to have a specific place or I will become anxious in the not knowing.  The not knowing again is tied with the short-term memory challenges. 

These short-term memory issues have turned me into “a checker.”  Before leaving the house, I check routinely that the stove and oven are off and that other appliances are unplugged.  I have developed a checking routine for various appliances and doorways before leaving the house.  This level of “checking” feels important for me because of the memory issues but drives my husband and my daughter crazy.  

In general, I would say that the general anxiety that I experience currently presents my largest challenge in the management of my life including my role as mother to my sixteen-year-old daughter.  The anxiety is something that I face every day.  Being overly sedated so as not to feel the anxiety is one approach.  I am hopeful, however, that the medication I have been taking for the last 10 years will allow me to address that generalized sense of anxiety.  Perhaps also, this anxiety simply is tied with being a parent and all the worrying about things that that role entails.    Perhaps also this anxiety is due to unresolved issues of potential child abuse when I was six.

Prior to my daughter’s birth, I managed my condition with a combination of lithium and tegretol for ten plus years.  This was my regime when I had the mini breaks every six months or so that were treated with Mellaril and Haldol.  Now, I no longer have those mini break-through episodes, but I do have a sense of generalized anxiety a lot of the time.  The generalized anxiety appears for now to be the trade-off for no longer having the mini-breaks.   Managing through this generalized anxiety is my current mental health challenge.     I am hopeful as I get through to the other side of child abuse as a six-year-old, these anxiety symptoms will abate markedly. 

This has come up today

This has come up today in reviewing and updating comments from an earlier post of mine. It has been suggested that people who are accustomed to mental health and behavioral health issues may be able to empathize not just sympathize with people who are experiencing depression and anxiety for the first time due to covid-19.

Therefore mental health “veterans” like us may be able to help others in some small way. I am very curious to hear what those of us who are familiar with depression or anxiety might say to those who are first encountering symptoms due to covid-19 – likely situational depression and anxiety and uncertainty. These folks may not have clinical depression or clinical anxiety but that does not diminish the impact of what they are experiencing.

What might that look like if we were to reach out to those who are not familiar with or are new to depression or anxiety or uncertainty of all kinds?